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Back in ye olden days, a pirate’s flag whipping in the sea breeze struck fear in the hearts of seafaring traders. But today, pirates operate in the ocean of publishing. While some authors are filled with fear and anger when their books are pirated, others smile and look away.


Why would anyone be glad their book had been pirated? What exactly is book piracy? How is it different from plagiarism, and what should you do if you’re book’s been pirated or plagiarized?

What is the difference between piracy and plagiarism?


Plagiarism is when someone else copies your work and words and claims it as their own. When someone uses your exact words in a manuscript and doesn’t give you credit, they’ve plagiarized.


Piracy is when someone distributes your work online for free. As the author, you still get the credit since your name is on the book, but you don’t get the money because someone else is giving away your book for free.

A classic example of piracy was the file-sharing service called Napster, which allowed people to share music with each other for free. When someone uploaded a song by Madonna to Napster, the person wasn’t claiming to be Madonna. They were simply giving away Madonna’s music for free.

Piracy feels bad because people get your work without paying for it. But for most authors, the biggest enemy is not piracy but obscurity. 

When you’re getting started, no one even wants to pirate your book because no one knows about you. Readers don’t want to read your book because they haven’t even heard of you.

Piracy Cons

It’s Emotional

Authors who have Google Alerts set for their names get notified whenever a pirated PDF or an audio recording of the book is uploaded to a file-sharing website. Most people have an immediate feeling of injustice and violation. It doesn’t feel good because it feels like someone is stealing from you. 

However, piracy is different from stealing. For example, if I steal your car, I have it, and you no longer have it. But if I pirate your car, I essentially make a copy of your car. After I make a copy, I have a car, and you still have one too. 

Piracy isn’t stealing in the sense that the original owner is left with nothing. But there is a loss. Perhaps I was going to buy your car, but now that I have pirated it, I no longer need to buy it. You haven’t lost your car, but you did lose the sale.

When big companies calculate the cost of piracy, they assume all the pirated copies were lost sales. If a college student downloaded a million songs from Napster, the record company might assume it had lost $1 million. But in reality, the college student would have never paid $1 million for music, so the sale isn’t technically lost.

What can you do if your book has been pirated?

Email the Offending Party

You can email the offending party and ask them to cease and desist. You can even threaten legal action. However, that may not be a good use of your time. To win a copyright case, you’ll need to spend upwards of $10,000. The winner of a copyright case rarely gets their money back. The suit simply causes the defendant to go bankrupt.

The music industry lost money suing single moms for downloading music from Napster. It was a very expensive and bad business decision. They’d spend $50,000 suing, and when they had settled out of court, they only received $1,000 because most people who were downloading free music didn’t have a lot of money.

DMCA Takedown Notice

Issuing a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Takedown Notice would be a better use of your time. It’s a pseudo-legal action. Most websites like YouTube and Facebook allow you to report copyright infringement by submitting a DMCA Takedown Notice through their websites. You can complete the online form to report the person pirating your work, and the website will take down the content at your request. The DMCA notice is powerful. 

In fact, some users complain that it’s too powerful.

Some people have previously submitted DMCA Takedown Notices because another person complained about them online. Think “Cancel Culture” in its early days. When a DMCA complaint is filed, the burden of proof falls to the person posting the pirated content. They must prove the content was not pirated in order to be reinstated.

If someone publishes a link to a PDF of your book on their website, you simply go to their web host and file a DMCA Takedown Notice, and it will be taken down. 

The only problem is that you’ve only removed the pirated copy from one website. Big copyright licensors pay companies to patrol the entire internet for pirated content and manage DMCA Takedown Notices. It is expensive and time-consuming.

If you’re a small-time author, that approach isn’t worth your time or money, so I recommend a shift in thinking. 

Piracy Pros

Believe it or not, having your work pirated can provide a positive boost for your author career. 

Your book is your best advertising vehicle. It’s a 300-page brochure advertising your next book. When someone downloads a copy of your pirated book, they’re probably just testing out your writing to see if you’re an author they want to read. If they like your book, they’ll spend money on your next book. 

Essentially, these pirating thieves are handing out brochures to sell your next book. 

Imagine that two authors have just finished their first novels. Author A purposely uploads her book to a pirating site, and it receives a million downloads. Author B goes through the regular book launch process and reaches 10,000 people who paid for the book. Which author will make more money when their second novel releases? Author A! Because 1,000,000 people know about her books, whereas Author B is still in relative obscurity.

Piracy, in this sense, isn’t new. In the 1920s, radio was the new technology. Radio stations played records without paying the owner of the music. It seemed like a terrible injustice for the artist. However, artists and radio stations soon discovered that having their songs played for free on the radio actually increased the artists’ visibility and sales.

Musicians who embraced radio flourished.

In fact, there was a big scandal a few decades later. Musicians and record labels began paying radio stations to play their music. Giving music away for free on the radio showed artists and labels that it’s much easier to turn fame into fortune than to turn fortune into fame. It’s hard to gain notoriety. 

Piracy is Viral

According to a Columbia University Study, people who download pirated music “buy as many legal DVDs, CDs, and subscription media services as their non-file-sharing, Internet-using counterparts. In the US, they buy roughly 30% more digital music. They also display marginally higher willingness to pay.”

Your book is a brochure for your next book, and these thieves are handing out brochures for you.

Legal “Piracy”

Libraries could be considered legal pirate sites. Many people can check out a copy of your book for free. The library had to pay for the book, but they may loan your book dozens of times. It sounds a bit like piracy, and yet, every author I know wants to have their books shelved in libraries. Why? Because it increases an author’s visibility. Additionally, 50% of people who like the book they checked out will buy another book from that author.

The more people read and discuss your book, the more books you’ll sell. 

Pirates are the Ultimate Mavens

A maven is an expert or superfan. A science fiction maven would read 100 sci-fi novels every year. Because they read so many books, they’re more likely to be pirates or download pirated works because buying 100 books per year is expensive! 

The book maven is also a fantastic source of book recommendations. All their friends ask them what to read next. Since so many people trust their recommendations, a pirate who reads 100 books every year may be more influential than a blogger who writes about your genre.

How to Encourage Sharing with the Creative Commons

The notion that ideas can be owned and stolen is a relatively new concept that only emerged about 100 years ago. Our society is still navigating how to handle the concept of idea ownership.

Copyright and intellectual property benefit the wealthiest people to the detriment of everyone else. For example, copyright laws protect well-known artists like Madonna, but they don’t benefit the local artist playing in restaurants selling their own CDs.

To help control how intellectual property is shared, anyone can use Creative Commons (CC). “Creative Commons licenses give everyone from individual creators to large institutions a standardized way to grant the public permission to use their creative work under copyright law. From the reuser’s perspective, the presence of a Creative Commons license answers the question, ‘What can I do with this work?'”

Creative Commons offers “some-rights-reserved” copyright, which allows creators to choose which rights to retain and which to grant the reader. Creative Commons offers six different licenses at

·      Attribution (BY) All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.

·      Share Alike (SA) You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.

·      Noncommercial (NC) You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen No Derivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.

·      No Derivatives (ND) You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.

You can set up your own Creative Commons protection at

I spoke with an editor at a conference who told me about an author who had uploaded his book to a pirate site, and his sales went up. She wanted to chastise him for pirating his own book because he didn’t have permission from the publisher. But she also really liked the fact that the editor, author, and publisher were all making more money due to the wide distribution of the pirate site and the resulting increase in sales.

That is the paradox of piracy. If you don’t like piracy, you can file DMCA notices and keep all your work ratcheted down. But if you’re willing to let people “play your song on the radio” for free, you might be surprised by how many more books you sell.

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